Syndergaard arrives in the big leagues pitching the best baseball of his life. In his last three starts in triple-A he was 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA (2 ER/22 IP). His peripherals were just as impressive: 11 hits, 2 walks and 27 strikeouts, for an opponents' batting average of .147 and a strikeout rate of 35%. On its face, based on the raw numbers these numbers are terrific. However, adjusting for his environment makes his performances even better. His last three starts have been in Las Vegas (twice) and at Albuquerque. Based on three-year park factors, Albuquerque featured the most runs per game of any park in the Pacific Coast League (or AAA as a whole) while Las Vegas was fourth. Overall, he leaves the PCL fifth in ERA (1.82) and strikeouts (34), second in WHIP (0.94) with the lowest opposing batting average (.192) of any qualified pitcher.
Before Syndergaard's back-to-back seven shutout inning starts on April 27 and May 2, he had never had back-to-back quality starts (defined as 3 runs or fewer in six innings or more) in his half-season in his first 28 starts. The quality start metric is certainly crude, but it serves to capture whether a pitcher is keeping runs off the board and pitching deep into ball games. To some degree, Syndergaard can thank the PCL's hitter-friendly tendency for the lack of quality starts, but the truth is that he was not dominating triple-A in the way one should expect a pitcher who has ace-level potential.
Syndergaard is the rare pitcher who, if everything comes together, could be an ace. He's huge with the size at 6'6" and north of 240lbs to maintain the quality of his stuff through a start and a season. His fastball sits around 95 mph, and he can crank it up to 98 mph or so. His curveball has plus depth and movement. His changeup has improved and at its best is a plus offering as well.
The area where Syndergaard has improved the most from 2014 when he ran a 4.60 ERA in triple-A to go along with a 25% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate is more on the mental side than the physical side. In years past, when he would get into trouble, he would revert to throwing his fastball. Triple-A hitters were too smart for that. Only as he has learned to rely on his off-speed pitches in a wider variety of counts has he found success at the minor's highest level. He will need to continue to do so to be successful in the big leagues.
Mets pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick laughed when asked about Syndergaard's development as reflected in his pitch selection this year. ""All the pitches are there," he responded." Romance continued, "For me, he didn't throw his two-seamer very much last year. His armside two-seamer is a very intimidating pitch. He's using that more this year, along with all of his other pitches." An armside two-seam fastball from a right-hander like Syndergaard moves down and in to a right-handed hitter.
Romanick explained that when it came to Syndergaard and choosing pitches, "He's learning to trust his game plan, it's a real simple one, and rely on that. It's a maturity thing. "
The thing Mets fans should focus on tonight, and in Syndergaard's first few outings is how, and when he uses his secondary pitches. His fastball will be explosive, but his ability to sequence that big-time heat with his other offerings will dictate whether he has immediate success.